No plans passed for 20 shoddy schools

2012-02-06 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL Education Department officials may have been caught out in a lie by the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) at the legislature.

The lapse was exposed by former MEC for Public Works, Maggie Govender, who questioned whether Education MEC Senzo Mchunu was being misled by his officials.

The Education Department appeared before Scopa on Friday to answer questions about the shock finding by the Auditor-General (A-G) that 20 schools the department built last year at a cost of R56 million had defects ranging from shoddy workmanship to structural problems.

An official in the planning section told Scopa that the projects had received planning approval from both the Education Department and the plans approval committee of the KZN Department of Public Works.

Govender, who sits on Scopa, responded. “I don’t know if the MEC is being misled by his officials, but speaking as a former insider, none of the plans for these schools were submitted to the plans approval committee and from what I understand the situation has not changed.”

She said the plans committee ensured that projects were finished on time and that poor workmanship and structural defects were corrected.

It emerged that the Education Department lacks the capacity to plan, monitor and supervise infrastructural projects.

Scopa member Mark Steele of the Democratic Alliance said he was shocked to learn that there were only four qualified officials with a background in building design and construction to monitor 4 000 infrastructure projects.

From the A-G’s report it emerged that the 20 defective schools were built by implementing agents appointed by the department.

The agents were the Independent Development Trust (IDC), which built two schools, Ithala, which built 16, and two that were project-managed by the Education Department itself.

The head of Education, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, told Scopa that his department agreed with the A-G’s findings. However, he said, the problem lay with the implementing agents and the department had taken action against staff who were supposed to monitor the programme.

Govender pointed out that there were serious weaknesses in appointing implementing agents. For example, the agents appointed contractors who were often not accredited with the Construction Industry Development Board. They were difficult to hold to account because there was no direct agreement with the department.

Mchunu described the A-G’s report as an embarrassment and agreed that Education should use Public Works’ expertise.

Sishi said his department was committed to appoint a technical expert in every district to improve capacity. Steele said that even this was probably not sufficient.

Roman Liptak of the Inkatha Freedom Party called for improved planning and co-ordination in the building programme.He cited the example of a school completed near Tongaat last year that had hardly any pupils because of changing demographics.

Scopa resolved to organise a meeting with the MECs for Education and Public Works, representatives from the provincial treasury and implementing agents to address problems in the school building programme.

The A-G conducted performance audits of infrastructure delivery at the KZN Health and Education departments during 2011. He found poor quality in the construction of over half (58%) of the projects examined and that the departments of Health and Education in all nine provinces had wasted more than R2 billion by awarding tenders to shoddy contractors.

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